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Like many technologists across the US, I have been involved in multiple startups. Several of them produced revenue, which is a key metric on the road to success.
In each of these entrepreneurial ventures, there were common hurdles – or opportunities as some call them. Advancing an idea from thought to disruptive technology to revenue to growth requires a team of dedicated people. Oh, sure, it is possible for the one-person show to build a workable version of a software product or service, and even to gain an audience through excellence in the use of social media. Stepping into the streams of revenue and growth nearly always requires the help of others. Here is the good news: Support in the form of products and people and promotion is available from known entities to help innovative entrepreneurs launch and grow an idea.
Gaining support from others often means some level of funding and a commitment from other technologists to write code. Funding is not the focus of this article, so I will gloss over the matter rather quickly. I was able to self-fund one of my startups with after-hours work from my real job as a data consultant. Another was jump-started with $150,000.00 in angel funding from local investors. In that case, I created a nicely-bound business plan and presented the opportunity for investment to a local government-sponsored economic development group, through which I met the people who shared the vision. Communities of 50,000 residents and larger usually have economic development groups whose members can steer you toward angel investors. You will want to understand the investor’s purpose and focus and prior investment placements before making a pitch. Further information on funding is a good topic for discussion with your local SCORE chapter.
Cloud or on Premise?
Startup concepts in this article are specific to software ventures. Open source software (OSS) is often chosen when initially implementing a concept. Sometimes, an entrepreneur chooses OSS because of the attractive licensing. Free, as in ‘free beer’ rather than ‘free puppy,’ is an attractive pricing scenario when revenue will not be generated for several months while a product is in initial development.
Free commercial software is available from a number of companies. Too often, the free software is only for demonstration or evaluation use, or has functional limitations. That model does not allow startups to engage in iterative development cycles before the usage period expires. A better path is provided through support such as the IBM Global Entrepreneur program, in which software resources for both on premise and in the cloud are provided at no charge. Gaining access to operating systems, development environments, source code management systems, and BI tools allows a startup to focus on results and not on software that might not be accepted by their client market. IBM’s program, as is the case with other industry programs, has no enrollment fee, nor is there an exit fee. Three years of access to a wide range of software, from database to analytics to mobile development to development environments, eliminates the concern for the software licensing. Startups are able to focus on activities that move a disrupting technology idea to revenue generation.
Depending on your location, you may have access to great human resources in the form of peers and advisors. I have been able to meet with dozens of people in both Indianapolis and the Lafayette area, home to Purdue University. There are meet-ups and group meetings throughout each month, at all times of the day and evening. It is not unusual for six or ten to gather for coffee in the morning, and another group of ten or more to meet over lunch, to discuss their startup plans and progress. In the evening, as many as 250 have met monthly for five-minute overviews and ‘fireside chats’ with founders of local firms that have successfully moved from startup to growth stage.
It is extremely valuable to hear from other entrepreneurs of their struggles and successes. What worked for one may not work for you, or you may learn of pitfalls that are on the road that you are planning to travel. These interactions are excellent ways to build networks of people that can be of interest to each other at various stages of your startup. I found that immersive events are highly valuable. Industry events with birds-of-a-feather sessions are where many startups coalesce their ideas and personnel. Gartner Conferences usually have luncheons with tables specifically labeled for like-minded people, such as ‘Big Data in Healthcare’ or ‘Mobile Solutions for Operations.’ IBM SmartCamps bring together early stage startups that align with their Smarter Planet vision, with serial entrepreneurs, technology experts, academic institutions, and investors that otherwise are not easily found.
Who Knows You?
At some point in the startup stage, you want others to know of your vision. You want to share what your disruptive technology will bring to the market. You want to put people on notice, perhaps. One of my early ventures involved digital versions of well-known children’s books and museums. The key resource we had was a lock on the rights to create digital properties. What we found was that we should have been promoting that asset, and not allowing ourselves to be the developers. We had a powerful case to be a distributor and, instead, let ourselves become developers. We should have learned, earlier than we did, that promoting our assets could lead to relationships of value to many, not just a few.
Promotion is simply a scheduled set of tweets and a flat-color site with a couple of squeeze pages, right? Well, no, promotion is quite a bit more than that. It is partnering with trusted sources that have a large social graph, at a minimum. Sure, you can build that big world of connections with a focused effort, some say, though it will take a while if your network of contacts is small, or is large and made up of unknown entities. Who knows you? It is more important than who you know. When you have partners who share your vision and have teams of people that promote their partnerships, your long and winding road becomes more drivable. Partnering with Adobe or AutoCAD or IBM is very valuable when the topic turns to promotion. Their engines have been fine-tuned for years, and they take partners very seriously.
When you become a startup, you need a new focus on the products, people, and promotions that will work in the phases that you will encounter. I have found value over the years in networking with successful people and partnering with industry leaders. There are many elements of your startup to address, and there is no need to go it alone. Seek out the wisdom of those who have made mistakes and who have supporting products and services, and then focus on your disruptive technology. You will get there faster.
About Dave Leininger
Dave has been involved with data since the early 1980s. Since then, he has discussed data issues with managers and executives in hundreds of corporations and consulting companies in 20 countries. He has founded or co-founded software companies focused on education, entertainment, and corporate services.
About IBM Global Entrepreneur Program
I mentioned the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program in this article. You can find more about this program at IBM Global Entrepreneur. The program is looking for global entrepreneurs who want to build a smarter planet. Members of the IBM Global Entrepreneur program have a dedicated IBM relationship manager, access to software, and visibility through the IBM Global Solutions Directory.
This article was written independently by the author; however, it is sponsored by IBM GEP. This site does business with IBM.